We all know the saying, “You can’t choose your family.” But what if you’re being raised by a narcissist?
The challenges of dealing with a narcissistic mother can be tough and challenging; they may cause havoc in your life. So how do we deal when someone who’s supposed to take care of us hurts us instead?
Here’s how to deal with a narcissistic mother, as discussed by experts.
Women’s Life Coach, Life Learning Strategies
Mothers are giving, selfless with super-human powers of love. A mother can lift a 3,000 lb Ford, Mustang off their baby if the situation calls for it. Right? Well, yes and no.
Not all moms are created equal. Some can give attention in the most calculated way to fill their own bottomless need for security, safety, validation and love. These are the narcissist mothers, and if you have one, you have a world of hurt.
As the child of a narcissist mother, you may spend a lot of time confused. There is no consistency; love is never unconditional. You have to stay on your toes.
One client remembers watching television together snuggled safely on her mother’s lap, eating treasured chocolates and being told “you are a beautiful princess” one moment, and sliding down that same lap, landing in a heap on the floor in tears the next. She’d made the mistake of saying, “I don’t like that one.”
She became “spoiled and ungrateful.” Her mother was “never appreciated and unloved.” She suffered for years with an eating disorder. The lesson was clear. You have no choice here. You have no voice here.
The lessons of a narcissistic mother are long and lasting. They become part of who you believe you are, and the world will honor your beliefs. When you walk out the door thinking you are worthless, you will find experiences all through your day to support that belief: at school, at work, in friendships, and in relationships.
People will continue to show up who are familiar.
They make you feel just like your mom does, and even if that is not a good feeling, it is comfortable. We are wired to be comfortable with what we know.
If we aren’t careful, we can find that we have recreated the role we have with our mother: no choice, no voice in all areas of life.
We can spend a lifetime trying to make people love us who just don’t have it in them.
So, how do you break this cycle? Here are 5 tips for dealing with your narcissist mother and breaking the cycle:
Recognize the cycle
Be objective as you remember how you were asked to make her happy, fill her up, push your own feelings aside. Be specific, so you know exactly how you feel in her company.
Do you always feel small? Insignificant? Less important? What thoughts do you have, what feelings come up, where do you feel them in your body?
Stop playing your part
Once you know how you feel when you are with her, start to notice, “where else am I thinking these thoughts, and feeling these feelings?”. Are there other people in your life that you have duplicated the mother relationship with?
If so, do you want to continue it? Is it healthy and serving you? Can you address it? What boundaries are you able to institute?
Decide how you want to be treated
Now that you know how you were treated, what do you want instead? Sure, you would love your mother to change and become a loving, caring version of herself, but that is not likely to happen.
Narcissists don’t change but that doesn’t mean you can’t have all that you want in your life.
It is not up to your mother. You are enough. It was never up to her. You were always enough, from the very beginning. When you decided to believe your mother’s version of you, you attracted proof to support it. Now, you get to un-choose the negative, mistaken beliefs and remember the truth.
So, who are you? Decide for yourself if you want to be loved, respected, valued, and cherished.
Treat yourself that way you want to be treated
Once you know what you want, make it so. You start the ball rolling. I can tell you that you are worthy, beautiful, enough and that you matter. It is all true, and yet it likely isn’t sinking in.
The voice that will make the most impact is YOU. Until you believe your worthiness, it is just a hollow sentiment from a well-meaning bystander. Even “I love you” from an intimate partner can disappear one day. Many relationships don’t stand the test of time, and the “I love you’s” that were once spoken in earnest are torn away.
The real love, the enduring love, needs to come from yourself to yourself.
Start to say the things that you long to have heard from your mother: “I’m here. I’m proud of you. You are beautiful. You are so special to me. I will take care of you. You are precious to me. I accept you exactly as you are. You are the most wonderful person in my life.”
You say these things every day with vigor and passion. It might feel strange at first because you aren’t used to it; it is unfamiliar. That is ok; you are making it familiar. You are making loving, cherishing and respecting yourself comfortable.
Related: Why Is Self Love Important?
Limit your exposure
The more comfortable you are with the good thoughts and feelings, the less comfortable you will become with the negativity. Your tolerance for manipulation and toxic comments will go on.
Remember to see what is happening for what it is. You are not stupid, or dull, or ugly.
It is not your fault that your mother doesn’t love you enough. She is not able. She has never been able to. A narcissist is incapable of an unconditionally loving connection with another person. They have their own issues and deep insecurities.
It is sad, and it is not your fault.
The damage was done before you came on the scene. Narcissism stems from trauma in childhood, and so your mom was needy and hurting her whole life. You can be compassionate to the pain; you can have a heart for her suffering without being responsible for fixing it.
You can’t fix it. There is debate about whether or not it is fixable at all. Narcissists are one of the most challenging client’s and many therapists won’t take them on.
Your last and best tip is to limit your exposure. The solution is dilution. Even within a family, siblings will differ in how they approach this based on their unique relationship with their mother. One sibling might tolerate visits once a week, and another cannot face visits ever again.
Mother has such a powerful label, and judgment could be leveled against a child who “cuts their mother off”, but a narcissist mother’s “love” is often more appropriately described as abuse.
Abuse is not love.
It is up to every survivor of childhood abuse to decide for themselves how to manage their experience. Find a time frame that works for you: anywhere from zero onwards is acceptable.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Narcissistic mothers as narcissistically-wounded.
The first thing to note about narcissistic mothers is that most are likely to have been narcissistically wounded as children. Narcissistic wounding generally occurs through a process known as mirroring.
Mirroring is an interaction that begins at birth. It is an interaction that generally occurs between the mother, or caretaker and the infant.
There is appropriate mirroring, and inappropriate mirroring. An example of appropriate mirroring is when a mother notices, and responds, appropriately to the cries of an infant. An appropriate mirroring response would be to first notice the cries of the infant, to try to figure out why the child is crying, and then to do something that might satisfy the apparently unmet need of the infant.
If it is determined that the infant is hungry, this would mean breastfeeding the baby. If the baby appears to be uncomfortable, it would be appropriate to figure out the source of the discomfort (ie., a blanket that is itchy and irritating the baby’s skin), and intervene to remedy the problem.
An inappropriate mirroring response to the cries of an infant could be to completely ignore the infant, and the cries, or to say something to the child in a harsh tone. Taking it a step further, mirroring could go beyond an inappropriate level of interaction and may represent an outright abusive reaction, such as screaming at the child to stop, or actually striking or shaking the child.
There is often a fine line between inappropriate mirroring and outright abuse.
Infants are completely helpless, and completely dependent on adults to attend to their needs. As children grow, and gradually become able to more effectively advocate for their needs and to do some things for themselves, mirroring between the child and the mother/parental figures, becomes more complex.
It becomes more difficult to draw the line between appropriate, and inappropriate mirroring. At this point, another type of inappropriate mirroring can occur. This form of inappropriate mirroring is known as overindulgence. It stems from an often unconscious refusal to recognize that the child is no longer an infant.
It is a lack of acknowledgment of, and appreciation for, the child’s physical, emotional and intellectual growth, and development.
This form of mirroring is also known as spoiling a child. Like other forms of inappropriate mirroring, overindulging or spoiling a child can producing narcissistic injury, that the child invariably carries into adulthood and, if unchecked or unaddressed, projects the injury onto others, including their own children.
As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.”
It is important to note that no parent consistently displays appropriate mirroring as no mothers/caretakers are perfect. To prevent serious and enduring narcissistic injury in the child, a parent simply needs to be good enough, though “good enough” may often be difficult to define.
Like consistently inappropriate mirroring, a sudden, dramatic, and radical departure or shift from a pattern of mostly appropriate mirroring, to inappropriate and/or abusive mirroring can produce severe narcissistic injury and leave lasting scars.
In short, narcissistically-injured mothers tend produce narcissistically-injured children, who grow to often become narcissistic mothers or narcissistic caretakers themselves.
Therapy can be tantamount to damage control. If narcissistic injuries are sufficiently treated, via the corrective emotional experience known as psychotherapy, restoration can occur. Therapy can be conceptualized, after all, as reparenting and, basically, this is accomplished via the therapist offering consistently appropriate mirroring responses.
This means active, supportive, non-judgmental listening, and active exploration of unresolved experiences, internal conflicts, and developmental impasses originating in inappropriate mirroring between mother and child.
How to deal with a narcissistic mother
Learn about the nature of narcissism
The first step in dealing with a narcissistic mother is to learn about the nature of narcissism and the origins of narcissism. More specifically, this means educating oneself on narcissistic injury and its impact on emotional development.
Education will equip a person to deal with a narcissistic mother, but more than education is needed.
Narcissistic mothers often act in such a way as to leave the child, or adult offspring, feeling powerless, and not knowing how to respond. Narcissistic mothers often offer mixed messages in their words and actions, this can be very confusing at best. It often feels like there is no satisfying way of responding.
The mixed messages can be very confusing and often upsetting. This toxic form of communication often creates damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenarios. One often feels completely disrespected and invalidated and it’s tempting to respond within invalidating responses. One must resist such an urge, keeping in mind that the narcissistic mother is likely the victim of narcissistic mothering.
Respond with kindness
Respond with kindness, but not with blindness, or the sort of “kindness” that is mistaken for weakness, is key.
Defend yourself, without attacking your narcissistic mother. Make sure in the responses that you are firm, yet not invalidating, of your narcissistic mother. Don’t blame and shame. Make statements that bring clarity, and establish appropriate boundaries.
Narcissistic mothers are unable to see their children as separate, unique individuals, with their own set of needs. Instead, they regard their children as extensions of themselves.
As an example, narcissistic mothers may feel the need to project a certain image to others with whom they interact. Perhaps they want others to see them as strong and always in control of their emotions. Let’s say your narcissistic mother invites guests over. You are observed crying in the presence of her friends, and so she pulls you aside and reprimands or scolds you. Maybe she does so openly, adding humiliation and insult to injury. Maybe she has enough self-discipline to wait until her guests leave to rake you over the coals.
In any case, you are left feeling powerless and alone, along with a sense that no matter how you respond, she will not change, and you will be left feeling invalidated and possibly worthless.
An appropriate response could be, “Mother, I do not believe, as you seem to believe, that I have to be strong at all times and never express vulnerability. I feel ashamed and invalidated when you berate me for simply being human. How would you feel if you were treated in such a way? Please refrain from attacking me for being vulnerable in the future.”
You might say, “Easier said than done. You don’t know my mother.” There is nothing easy about knowing how to respond to narcissistic mothers.
Even after fully educating yourself on the subject matter of narcissistic mothers; getting to know yourself better; and experimenting with different ways of responding, you may feel at a loss.
It’s a long arduous journey. Don’t go at it alone. Continuously reach out to friends, and professionals, if that’s what it takes. Narcissistic mothering must end. You can begin to break the generational cycle, but, admittedly, it may be the mother of all challenges.
Author | Psychotherapist
What makes someone a narcissist?
It’s important to understand what narcissism is. It’s a personality disorder, a more or less fixed and unhealthy way that people relate in the world. It’s characterized by self-involvement, a sense of superiority to others, lack of empathy towards people, a need to be admired, and avoidance of feeling shame.
Narcissists can be, but are not always, exploitive. Most exhibit a sense of great self-importance that is not commensurate with who they are or what they’ve done.
How do you know if your mother is narcissistic?
There are ways to determine if your mother is narcissistic. One way is to look up the traits involved in the DSM-5 and see if she matches up to what is described. Another way is to check in with yourself. Mom is likely narcissistic if you feel unheard and invisible much of the time as if what she wants is more important than what you want. Having these feelings points toward her having little empathy toward you.
Other traits to look for are being competitive toward you or others, needing to be right, and going out of her way to avoid accepting mistakes or failures and turning the conversation back to herself more frequently than most people do.
What are ways to manage a narcissistic mother?
Understand that you’re unlikely to change her basic nature
She became self-absorbed because that was adaptive for her in her childhood and this solidified into her personality in adulthood. However, just because you can’t erase her narcissism doesn’t mean you can’t soften her edges.
Try letting her know when you don’t feel heard or seen and observe her response. If she seems to feel genuinely sorry, there may be a chance that she’ll try to be different. If she gets defensive and angry at being faulted, there’s little likelihood that she will change.
Don’t let her view of or interactions with you define you
Recognize that most people are not like her and that you will need to seek out healthier people to be around. Remember that her view of you, the one that shaped you, is very skewed toward her looking good and feeling emotionally comfortable.
If you frequently feel defective and have low self-esteem, it may be because you were raised by someone who lifted herself up by putting you down.
Find some positive traits in her and join with her on things you have in common
Praise her as often as you can, also known as stroking her ego. She sorely needs it and this will make you seem less threatening to her. Think of her as insecure and damaged emotionally and try to muster up compassion for her. Focus on what is healthy about her as much as possible. Be realistic.
Set clear boundaries to protect yourself
She may not know where she ends and you begin, so you need to set that demarcation. Be clear and consistent in boundary setting and in your expectations of how you want to be treated. If all else fails, reduce contact with her and, if needed, cut off contact for the time to begin. Sadly, not all narcissistic mothers (or fathers) can be in their children’s lives because they are simply too toxic.
One of my clients calls her ability, honed at the knee of her narcissistic father, “nardar” which she defines as being able to spot narcissistic people. If you have your “nardar” in gear and it tells you that Mom has this personality, it’s time to understand what’s going on and take better care of yourself.
Psychotherapist | Social Worker | Intuitive Counselor and Healer | Certified Life Coach
Make sure to fully understand what it means to be dealing with or living with a narcissist
This is a very difficult type of person to deal with. One that seems they can reason at times, but this tends to not be the case. They also tend to be loved by others looking in as most narcissists are very charismatic and master manipulators.
Accept that there is nothing that you can do to get a narcissist to change
NOTHING. So arguing with them will only send you running in circles and feeling very frustrated and empty in the end.
The best thing that you can do is set very VERY strong boundaries for the narcissist family member and never allow them to break them. The idea is to act as though you are training them to behave better, versus have any hope that you can really teach them to change in any way.
Do not engage in arguments
Be firm in saying that you will not continue a conversation with them while they are in an aggressive or manipulative state. Set consequences for them when they will not back down. “If you do not stop speaking to me that way, I will not speak with you at all.” is a way to change the conversation to avoid confrontation.
Never ever blame yourself nor fall into the trap of the narcissist trying to blame you
They will always play the victim role and will always try to make you sound like you are the problem. Do not allow them to do that!
Get support outside of the relationship, professional support from someone that knows how a narcissist works so that you do not succumb to their abuse but instead, find ways to protect yourself and keep yourself at a safe distance from the narcissist parent. You must protect yourself from a person like this even if you love them.
If you see no hope in sight with a narcissistic parent, you may have to consider some level of estrangement. This can mean moving away to a safe distance from the narcissist, or only allowing yourself to speak to the parent a certain amount of times a month or year depending on how difficult the relationship is, and you may want to consider setting up rules that are in place during interactions.
The bottom line is that in most cases the child of a narcissist is abused on some level and needs to protect him or herself from narcissistic abuse and episodes.
When adult children struggle with narcissistic mothers there are general themes that show up repeatedly – expectations, conflicts, and communication.
Narcissistic mothers often expect the unreasonable, for example, that you answer every time they call even if it is 15 times an hour during a work meeting, or that you agree with their perspective 100% of the time or make their priorities your priority.
The underlying unspoken expectation is if mom has a need it is your obligation to meet it.
Secure professional help
It is helpful to secure professional help so you can figure out where your mother’s needs stop and yours begin. You will learn how not to be the solution to every problem. Disrupting the “I have a need, you fix it” dynamic takes time, and requires rehearsing small steps to change the result.
Conflicts with narcissistic mothers become more complicated as they struggle to accept negative feedback. Often they react strongly by attacking the messenger or defending themselves in ways that discourage resolution and connection. Narcissistic mothers have been trained since birth to defend and attack so it is an automatic response and negative feedback feels life-threatening.
Frame messages as request as opposed to complaints
Learning to identify the most important message you want to send, how to frame it as a request as opposed to a complaint and how to respond to mom without escalation requires specialized training.
The 101 communication skills that are taught including stating “I am hurt…” by her words or behavior will be poorly received. Rather one needs to focus on requests of “how do we do this better.”
Communication with narcissistic mothers can get derailed by battles of who caused whatever problem is being addressed. Think about how you would address the problem if it was no one’s fault like the problem was the same as the weather or a lamp – it just is.
Ignore name-calling and address the emotions and wishes beneath the hurtful words
For example when mom states, “You always ruin the holidays,” respond back with a reflection “I really hear that you want our holidays to go better” and if it is sincere you can follow up with “and so do I.” Reframe from placating mom or agreeing to something you do not want or believe in. Rather stay sincere and identify with the parts of mom’s statements you can agree to.
Reinforce positive emotions, wishes, and healthy relationship needs with your responses.
Do not expect agreement – shoot for clarity and give time for your statements to sink in. Your mother may invalidate what you say at the time then, later on, alter her behavior that was your original request.
Registered Associate Marriage & Family Therapist
Growing up with a mother who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a difficult and damaging experience that leaves a deep mark on the lives of children. Kids look to their parents to be mirrors – helping the child build a sense of self and navigate the world by accurately reflecting the child’s experience.
But if your mother is a narcissist, you are constantly being presented with a distorted reflection. She can’t help you find who you are, because everything has to be a reflection of who she is.
As adults, the children of narcissists struggle to come to grips with their mother’s mental illness. In my experience, the key to dealing with the situation is to focus on accepting three important facts:
It’s her not you. It’s natural to blame yourself or feel that there’s something that you’re doing that is causing your mother to behave this way. But, that’s simply not true. It’s not your fault – this is just the way she is.
This is the way she is wired. Your mother is not choosing to be a narcissist. This is how her brain works, and how it has always worked. Just as some of us have huge reserves of empathy, your mother can only see how everything impacts her.
You can’t change her. The children of narcissists keep trying to behave differently in the false hope that somehow if they say or act differently their mother will suddenly become different. Unfortunately, that’s simply not going to happen. You can’t change her.
What’s the answer? Acceptance and self-compassion.
Accept that this is how she is and that she’s not going to change
Once you give up the fantasy that you are someday going to have a mother who is loving, generous, and interested in your life, you can get off the treadmill of disappointment and resentment. And instead of hoping she can give you the love you need, you can focus on finding that love and attention elsewhere in your life.
Accepting your mother’s condition is not easy
It’s a difficult and painful process of accepting that you’ll never get what you so deeply long for. It’s a task that you have to approach with self-compassion for the pain you’re experiencing now, as well as the years of pain you experienced as a child. Often children of narcissists find individual therapy very helpful in working through this childhood trauma.
Mara E. Gottlieb, Ph.D., LMSW
Licensed Master Social Worker, Talking Changes
Whether a narcissistic mother is benevolently or malevolently narcissistic (the charmer who wants everyone to see how perfect she and her child are, versus the angry, jealous, cruel narcissist who doesn’t care that she’s breaking down her child or anyone else), a narcissist is incapable of seeing her child except through the lens of her own needs and purposes.
Because children are by nature adaptively narcissistic, what they learn from a narcissistic mother is that something is eternally wrong with them causing a psychic confusion that leads to rage, self-blame, self-hate, and an inability to know one’s authentic self.
If the mother is a benevolent narcissist, she may at least shower her child with praise when the child does something the mother feels reflects positively on her, but with a malevolent narcissist, the child will grow up feeling not just unloved, but not liked as a person, and as you can imagine, this can cause poor social choices going forward, in both friendships and romantic relationships, as well as self-destructive behavior.
I believe it is at the root of codependency, addiction, cutting, and other forms of self-harming behaviors (all of which, it must be said, are repetitive, obsessive, compulsive attempts to self-soothe).
A narcissistic mother rarely results in a narcissistic child, in my experience.
What it most often results in is a child who learns to be a chameleon, who has an externally-dependent sense of self, and who will often struggle with their weight (in the form of binge-eating, bulimia or anorexia, particularly if one of the mother’s targets was the child’s body/weight), addictions, and/or with relationships largely based on trying to get people to love or like them.
Invite other adults into the child’s life
As for how to deal with a narcissistic mother, it really depends on what age the individual is. If I were to notice that a young child had a narcissistic parent, I would do whatever I could to invite other adults into the child’s life who were capable of seeing the child for who they really are and helping them to feel seen, valued, and respected.
I would do whatever I could to help that child find their own “north star:” what they enjoy, where their strengths lie, what makes them laugh, etc., and to assist them in their individuation process (i.e. becoming a separate person).
Offer space for a new perspective in their lives
As they grew older, I would be very careful not to threaten the bond between mother and child (I will inevitably lose that battle), but possibly to offer space for the child to consider that their mother’s perspective might not always be right, or the only one.
For an adult, I would very much suggest reading Dr. McBride’s book; consider trying out al-anon for adult children (a 12-step program specifically for people who grew up in families with addiction or the behaviors that accompany addiction, such as narcissism and unpredictable rage); entering therapy with a clinician who can offer unconditional regard and respect (and possibly who is trained in EMDR if there was trauma involved that needs to be addressed and healed), and slowly determining how much of a relationship the person can handle without feeling subsumed by their mother again.
It is imperative that the person truly come to understand that the mother’s behavior has nothing to do with them or their value, and everything to do with brokenness and fragility that long pre-dates the child’s existence.
Once we understand that their behavior is not about us, it can be easier to have a relationship with them that honors our own boundaries and needs (easier said than done, for sure).
As the comedian, Linda Ellerbee once said, “It’s one thing to be around people who push our buttons. It’s another to be around the people who installed them.“
Cara Maksimow, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Maximize Wellness
When a child grows up in a household with a narcissistic mother, you internalize a clear message that your needs are not important, or at least less important than moms.
Mom’s needs are the utmost priority in the household and often children are only viewed as an extension of mom. Often, you have a hard time separating your needs from the needs of your mom and find yourself working really hard to keep your mom happy.
“People pleasing” and perfectionism often become predominant characteristics. As adults, you often feel not good enough or unimportant. You may feel depressed with poor self-worth as well as a very negative internal voice. Your self-talk perpetuates the damaging message heard as a child. The world appears as very black or white with not much room for imperfection.
Start with self-healing
When learning to deal with a narcissistic mother, it starts with healing yourself. Self- acceptance in the form of self-compassion is a great starting point. Notice your inner dialogue, give yourself a break and accept yourself as you are. Self-compassion is about speaking to yourself in a way you would speak to someone else you care about and provide empathy and support.
Accept your mother as she is
Another important factor when dealing with a narcissistic mother is to allow yourself to mourn the loss of the mother you “wish you had” and accept your mother as she is. It is easy to get hung up on what mom is “supposed to be” and not accept her for who she is and has been.
Set boundaries with your mom
Know your personal limits when it comes to interactions. Is she intrusive into your life, your marriage, your parenting? If so, can you set clear boundaries on what you are and are not comfortable with her discussing with you? What does that look like in day-to-day interactions? Can you limit visits and phone calls?
The type of boundary is going to depend on you. You can decide what is appropriate and healthy for you and recognize that you are not responsible for your mother’s emotional reaction to your boundary.
Keischa Pruden, MS, LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS, CPP, SAE
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor | Owner, Pruden Counseling Concepts
Many people talk about the damage narcissistic mothers cause their children. I am not invalidating their effects. They indeed cause children heartache, fertilizing their young minds with uncertainty and cultivating a field of conditional love that ruins these children’s relationships in their adult lives.
Empathy is necessary
But let’s take a minute to look at the mother’s side in this equation. I have found that to effectively cope with a negative situation, empathy is necessary. Developing empathy towards a person or situation does not mean you allow negatively to take up your emotional space, but it does give you permission to understand a situation and set appropriate limits.
The root of narcissism is usually the circumstance of being over-parented or under-parented. If a person has been over-parented, their sense of self is inflated. They have not been taught empathy, sympathy, or compassion.
Rather, the messages they received as children are “Think of yourself only,” “Your point of view is the only thing that matters,” or something similar in nature. As a result, they lack the insight to relate to others with an authenticity outside of their own desires.
Conversely, if a person is under-parented, they have not been given any type of nurturing messages upon which to build their personality or emotionally healthy relationships with people. They learn to overcompensate for their lack of parental care by inflating their sense of self and “looking out for number one.”
This is the emotional condition of a little girl that becomes an adult and a mother, but emotional wounds from childhood keep her locked in survival mode. She knows no other way to be to feel safe.
Unfortunately for her children, they learn early on their needs never come before hers. A narcissist’s children are often consciously or unconsciously pawns in their mother’s psychological games of “Me, Me, Me, how do I get my needs met?”
Set firm boundaries
Now that we know why a narcissist mom exists, how can we deal with her? I have two answers. The short answer is to set firm boundaries for all of your spaces (physical, psychological, social, spiritual). Narcissists, by definition, believe that every space is their space. Boundaries are required to preserve whole wellness.
Seek professional guidance
Why is that suggested? The emotional turmoil created by narcissistic moms are systemic and can be debilitating. Clients often seek help for depression, anxiety, self esteem issues, and even suicidal thoughts, only to realize their relationship with their narcissistic mother is the root of at least part of the negativity in their lives.
Once a person decides to set limits with their narcissistic mother, they will more than likely be met with resistance from their mom, along with accusations of being cold, not loving them, or being ostracized altogether.
Dismantling the emotional mire created by narcissists takes a seasoned mental health professional who can support a person through not only dismantling emotional bondages but helping to rebuild a person’s sense of self as well.
Sue English MSW, LCSW, CADC
Licensed Family Therapist | Owner, English Meadows Counseling Services
Having a narcissist in your life, much less having that person being your mother, can be a complicated life-long journey. Narcissists demonstrate pervasive patterns of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and having an underdeveloped trait for empathy. Open, honest and healthy communication seems impossible when it comes to someone who is pathologically not capable of seeing beyond their own wants and needs.
Narcissistic mothers cannot tolerate, much less participate in, any uncomfortable or emotionally honest conversations leaving their child to feel emotionally unsafe to approach them with their own vulnerable needs.
When children feel devalued by their own parents, they can tend to act out and find dysfunctional ways to try to be heard and understood. You do not want your behavior and choices to entangle with your mom’s inabilities and shortcomings.
Reframing our view of the relationship can help us learn what we might or might not be able to receive from our loved ones.
It can lessen our own anger if we understand that clinically narcissistic individuals are not capable of true empathy and compassion. The upbringing of a narcissist frequently included their own loneliness, insufficient limits, a history being manipulated, and conditional approval.
Being educated on how family systems evolve can help us build some compassion and tap into more rational responses, identifying our own maladaptive behaviors and setting healthy boundaries for the benefit of our relationship and our own sanity.
Establish healthy boundaries
Healthy boundaries are imperative to your health and self-esteem as systemic boundary violations can lead to learned helplessness with a narcissistic family member. When you choose to engage with your mom, take care of your own needs, and show up as your best self.
Therefore, no matter what transpires, you will have no regrets about how you expressed yourself, even though you are upset and disappointed in her reaction.
If you outweigh the cost/benefit and decide to continue the relationship with a narcissistic mother, you need to accept that this is who she is, remember it for future interactions, and move past each moment being present for yourself as you nurture your own needs.
This complicated mother/child relationship can actually offer you the opportunity to expand your relational awareness, set healthy boundaries, and build self-confidence and compassion.
The really horrible thing about narcissistic parents is that the child’s neuroplasticity is so high and the abuse is so complex that many people will never realize the extent to which it has affected their lives.
As children, we are looking to our parents, especially our mother to help us understand the world around us and form our sense of identity.
If our parents are abusing us we will internalise it and think it means that we have the problem, we will go through life thinking we are faulty. If you have realised your mother is narcissistic I would say you are one of the very few that has a chance of recovering from the damage that has been done to you.
The best way to deal with any kind of abuser whether they are physically, mentally or emotionally abusive is to go no contact and cut them out of our lives completely but with a family member this is not always possible, we may still need to have contact with them at family events or through other family members.
So how should you deal with a narcissistic mother? A couple of my tips are below.
Don’t confront them
If your mother is narcissistic or you suspect she is a full blown narcissist don’t confront her about past behaviour, she will most likely gas light you further by denying it and accusing you of making things up.
She may even turn it around, accuse you of being abusive and recruit other family members or friends to act as flying monkeys alienating you from the family completely.
Not confronting them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t assert yourself in the present moment and question what they mean by remarks or put-downs but don’t confront them about the past and don’t show them any emotion. Such abusers are looking for a reaction, they don’t usually care what the reaction is they just want to see what they have gotten to you.
Realize that she’s doing the best she can with what she has
Realize that narcissism is a coping strategy, the narcissist has taken on so much toxic shame in their own childhood they have had to create a mask and use others to have some form of self-worth.
Accept that your mother has her own issues and she is using you to try to feel better about herself then let it go, don’t try to change her. Focus on being the best you can be and keep contact to a minimum.
Certified Life Transformation Coach, Online Divorce
The narcissistic type of people puts themselves above everyone else. Outwardly, they can appear arrogant, while deep inside the narcissists feel their insecurity and even if they have any achievements, they cannot be happy about them. Simply put, narcissists are always unhappy. Therefore, they try to compensate for this feeling at the expense of others.
Quite often, narcissistic mothers resort to manipulation in an attempt to get as much attention from their children as possible. They try to evoke feelings of guilt or other negative emotions to make it easier to manage the child.
It is essential to build boundaries
It is natural to support and help parents, but when the mother is manipulating to meet her selfish goals, it is an unhealthy relationship. It is essential to build boundaries here. In other words, a series of actions that you will not allow her under any circumstances.
For example, she requires increased attention to herself, so she constantly calls, although you are busy at work. In such a situation, it is worth talking to her and
clearly define the framework.
Tell her that you are not allowed to be distracted during working hours. And you can answer her call in your spare time. However, here the same should be clear rules, you cannot and do not have to devote all your time to the mother.
Accept that she won’t change
Transforming from a narcissist to a more conscious and adult personality type is so hard. Therefore, many people remain narcissists all their lives, not even suspecting that they are poisoning the existence of others. Accept your mom as she is, with all her flaws, and if you have tried to change her, stop. It is impossible to change a person until they themselves want it.
When you stop fighting with your mother and accept that she is just who she is, you will see that it will become much easier for you to live further.
Leave some privacy for yourself
You have every right to express yourself, do what attracts you, and communicate with those people who you like. You don’t have to tell your mother the details of your personal life.
Learn to say No in situations where it makes you uncomfortable
For example, you have had a very long work week and are exhausted, but your mother demands that you drop everything and take her to the flower fair. You are not obliged to do this if you are too tired and need rest. You have every right to tell her no, but if you want, you can offer her to pay for the taxi.
Remember that you are a personality, you do not have to follow your mother’s lead all your life and do only what she thinks is necessary, just because she gave birth to you.
Co-Founder and CEO, Ideapod
Dealing with a narcissistic mother requires boundaries
This means having limits in place which dictate how other people behave towards you, and those boundaries can be adjusted depending on who you’re with. Boundaries are essential when dealing with narcissists because of their lack of empathy.
They don’t respect the feelings of others, and will often push boundaries to get what they want. So, the only way you can deal with your narcissistic mother whilst still having some form of a relationship is to have these emotional perimeters securely in place.
Boundaries involve things like limiting the amount of time you spend with your mother.
You might find that in smaller doses you’re less affected by her narcissism, but spending an entire day together could be draining on you. Planning ahead makes it easier, so before you meet your mother know exactly what time you plan on leaving, and be clear about it from the start. Have your reasons thought out beforehand too, and don’t give in if your mother tries to guilt-trip you into staying longer.
Know that you’re walking away to protect your emotional health, and to continue having a relationship with your mother (but this time, on your terms).
Being on the ball and clear on your boundaries will help you in other situations too. If your mother is the type to put a lot of pressure on you to perform to her high standards, knowing when to walk away from an unhealthy conversation will limit the amount of damage she causes your self-esteem.
Having responses prepared to negative comments, or stating the fact that you’re mother is behaving inappropriately out loud are other ways you can limit the conversation and keep it steered in a direction you’re comfortable with.
Know that it probably won’t ever be smooth sailing
Once you have your boundaries straight, you can maintain a relationship with your mother, but know that it probably won’t ever be smooth sailing. Narcissists don’t have healthy boundaries and therefore they don’t like it when other people do, so you might find your mother likes to tests your limits.
When these incidents happen, it can be disheartening and may bring up childhood trauma or conflict. Be sure to give yourself regular breaks apart from your mother so you can keep grounded and deal with these issues when they arise.
Finally, don’t expect your mother to be part of that healing process
Your mother may never apologize for her behavior, or even acknowledge it. Therefore, you can’t wait for closure from her to move on, you must take those steps for yourself. Even if it’s difficult to implement them, consistency is key and the longer you do it the easier it will become.
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